What’s a virtual book signing?


The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us all to experiment with new things, and since we can’t have an in-person book signing, we decided to try a virtual one. Sign up for the Zoom meeting, and we’ll do a short reading, followed by an author Q&A. And yes, we’ll have signed copies of the The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens available.

If you can’t make the signing, and you’d still like an autographed copy, we’ve set up a special Amazon store. We’ll be offering a discount on autographed copies during the signing, so be sure to check back next week even if you can’t make the event.

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‘Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens’ out in hardcover and Kindle version

TBoone-3D-standing-croppedThe Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens, my account of the 2016 West Texas courtroom drama with attorney Chrysta Castañeda, is out. Despite some coronavirus-related delays, our distributor began filling orders on March 31. Amazon took a little longer, but the book went live on Amazon’s site on April 21. It’s now available for order and, ahem, reviews. We’ve also released a Kindle version.

Because the pandemic is keeping us from holding traditional book signings, we’re making signed copies available through the book’s website. Just click the button at the top and it will take you to the ordering page. Chrysta and I live in separate cities, so we had to ship the books back and forth to get them signed, and as a result, we’re charging a little more to cover the extra costs.

We hope to plan more events as businesses begin reopening, so stay tuned for more information.



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25 years later, I’m still trying to make sense of what I saw in Oklahoma City

Just after 9 a.m., the phone rang in my home office in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas.

“Bloomberg, Loren Steffy.”

“Do you have the TV on?” It was Mary Schlangenstein, my counterpart in Houston.

“No,” I said, a little befuddled.

“Turn it on.  Any channel.”

The tiny black and white set flickered to life and as the image came into focus I saw a building that appeared to be sheared in a half.

“That’s the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City,” Mary said. “They’re saying it’s a gas explosion.”

“That doesn’t look like a gas explosion, does it?”

Mary had years of experience for wire services, and she’d covered lots of explosions and other disasters — far more than I had. But it seemed to me a gas explosion would come from inside the building and blow outward. This looked like someone has sliced a big chunk out of a layer cake.

“No, it doesn’t,” she said.

I don’t think I said it, but I remember one word flashing in my mind: bomb.

I took a deep breath. Twenty-five years ago, Bloomberg was still a young news organization, but we played on an international stage. I’d been a reporter for less than a decade — a business reporter. I’d spent most of my time writing about profits and mergers and new products. I’d helped cover a major plane crash early in my career, and once I’d spotted smoke off the freeway in Arlington, and landed the exclusive of how the gas station had caught fire. But I’d never handled anything like what I was about to head into.

I told Mary to wait about 10 minutes, then call our editors and tell them I was on my way to Oklahoma City. Because Bloomberg covered mostly business, and because most of the reporters in the main newsrooms rarely left their desks, I knew there would be a lengthy debate over whether I should go to the site or try to cover it by phone. I wanted to head that off and not lose precious time.

I’d recently read Foreign Correspondent by Robert St. John, a freelance writer who decided to ship off to Europe when World War II broke out. He figured he’d find somebody to write for once he got there. I figured if I got fired for going to the blast site, someone would hire me once I was there.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Mary called me on my Motorola flip phone, which was about as thick as a stack of five iPhones, and coached me through what I’d need to do. Locate the command center, she said, that’s where you’ll find out how they’re going to handle the briefings. She said it would be somewhere on the perimeter that investigators would have set up. I had a paper map of Oklahoma City on the seat beside me. I’d never been there. I figured I’d work my way around the courthouse until I found the command center.shutterstock_128037164

I was barreling down Interstate 35 at 85 miles an hour, and every few minutes, bland-colored sedans with flashing lights would rocket past me. I assumed it was the FBI and other federal agents coming up from Dallas.

I asked Mary to find me a place to stay. I figured hotels would be filling up quickly. She said she’d call Bloomberg’s travel agency and get them working on it.

I pulled into downtown and parked on the street, which was eerily deserted. As I walked toward the blast site my phone rang. Mary said the only room the travel agent could find was a two-room suite at the Waterford, which I later learned was the fanciest hotel in town.

As I hung up the phone, a man in a blue windbreaker approached me and reached out his hand.

“Is that a cell phone?”

I told him it was.

“I need to borrow it.” Then I saw the yellow “FBI” on his jacket. I handed him the phone. He turned away from me as he talked and I turned around. That’s when I saw the building. It look as if someone had decided to tear it down and stopped half way through. It was shorn from the roof to the ground. Slabs of concrete dangled from floors, and metallic stubbles of rebar jutted out in all directions. White columns that had once been interior supports stood in stark, linear contrast to the chaos that surrounded them.

The FBI agent ended his call and handed my phone back, thanking me. I asked him if he could direct me to the command center, and he told me they hadn’t set one up yet. They hadn’t even established the perimeter. I later learned that they were trying to figure out how to search for survivors without causing the rest of the building to collapse.

As I walked, glass crunched under my feet. Windows were blown out for blocks in every direction. For the next few days, every step I took downtown was punctuated with the sound of grinding glass.

It was unseasonably cold that day, and it started to rain in the afternoon. I hadn’t brought a jacket, and I later realized I’d forgotten to pack underwear and socks. I stood in the rain during the first press conference, then went to the Waterford. I walked into the opulent lobby soaking wet, bedraggled, with a notebook full of details about the search for bodies.

I filed a story then found a Dillard’s in nearby shopping mall. The store was deserted, and the clerks told me the mall would probably close early. I interviewed them and wrote a story about the economic impact of the blast (business reporter, remember?)

I retired to my two-room suite and ordered room service. The next day, there was a more formal press conference, and by then authorities were sure the blast had been caused by a bomb. The body count was still rising. I filed stories for Bloomberg’s fledgling radio operation. I would spend most of my days at the bomb site, then return to the hotel, file any updates to my stories and go to bed. In the other room, I kept the TV on all the time. The Tokyo bureau would call me at the start of their day, and I’d stagger into the next room and check TV coverage for any developments. Tokyo, having given me a few minutes to wake up, would call again and I’d give a radio report. I’d go back to sleep and start the process again when the London bureau called. Then I’d wake up early and head back out to the bomb site.

In all, I believe I was there for five days, but it was a blur. I interviewed the store clerk who alerted authorities to Timothy McVeigh, who would later be convicted and executed for the bombing. I interviewed Chris Fields, the firefighter who cradled a bloody 1-year-old Baylee Almon in his arms  — a now famous photo that came to symbolize the horror of that day.

One hundred sixty-eight people died that day — including Baylee Almon and 18 other children — and some 500 people were injured.

The bombing came one day after my oldest son’s birthday, and he would later write in a school essay that “my dad had to go and cover the bomb where the kids got killed.” My son turned 29 yesterday. Baylee Almon will be 1 forever.

One day, returning from the blast site I unlocked my car in the vacant lot where I’d left it. As I turned the key, a voice over my shoulder said, “you’re lucky, I was about to call the wrecker.”

I turned to the man and said, “Seriously?”

“I’m tired of all you people just thinking you can park here.”

I remembered my Texas plates. But the pettiness of the moment lingers. Amid all that death and destruction, with every footfall marked by the staccato of crunching glass, with day after day of body counts and explanations of how rescuers were risking their lives to extract bodies from the unstable rubble, one man could still muster enough — what? anger? bitterness? spite? — to begrudge a fellow human a parking space. Weren’t we all allied against the reminders of inhumanity that surrounded us?shutterstock_8833954

McVeigh wanted to send a message with senseless violence — but as is always the case, the message was unheard. The violence, the horror, the inhumanity he unleashed drown it out. No one ever dug through the rubble looking for the bodies of children and then asked the bomber what he was concerned about.

McVeigh ushered in the modern era of terrorism. 9/11 would overshadow Oklahoma City, but McVeigh’s tactics, his philosophy of ignorance and hatred, his belief in violence as a solution, and his abject immorality were no different than Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or ISIS. We see its tentacles in Charlottesville and Charleston, to name just two.

I didn’t return to downtown Oklahoma City for many years. In 2015, I was in town for some interviews for a book I was writing and went by the memorial where the Murrah Building once stood. At the entrance is an archway, with 9:01 — representing the time before the blast — etched in it. One hundred sixty-eight chairs are arrayed on a grassy hill, each engraved with the names of a victim. Each is placed at about the spot in the building where they were found. Nineteen of the chairs are smaller than the rest. At the other end is another archway with 9:03 on it, which is supposed to represent the first moments of recovery.

Recovery, of course, isn’t that clear-cut. The doorway revolves. We move on, and we come back. We search for solace in remembrance. We look for reason amid chaos, for sense amongst senselessness, but we find none.



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Pandemic Publishing?

Maybe that’s what I should have called the publishing imprint for The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens. Self-isolation can be a great time for books. People have time on their hands and they’re looking for distractions. Heck, I used to dream of being told I had to sit and read for days on end. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

The logistics of launching a title when traditional channels of distribution are slowing or severed isn’t easy. Many people, after all, are avoiding bookstores, just as they are other retail establishments.

Situations are changing rapidly, but for now, our printer’s facilities — all of which are in the U.S. — are still operating and Last Trial is being printed as planned. Our distributor, Texas A&M University Press, is still accepting orders, and its warehouse remains open. That means you can still pre-order Last Trial and the books will be shipped on to you once they arrive in the warehouse. However, you should expect some delays. Printing schedules seem to be stretching out a bit.

In fact, I received a notice from our distributor this morning that Amazon is temporarily pausing orders until April 5 for products that aren’t household staples, medical supplies or other high-demand items. That includes books. So, if you ordered Last Trial via Amazon it may take a little longer to reach you.

As you can imagine, any book signings or speaking engagements have also been canceled or postponed.

We at appreciate your patience. I, my co-author, the rest of the Stoney Creek Publishing team and our partners at TAMU Press are working to get books to you ASAP. We think you’ll find Last Trial is worth the wait.

If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, click here. Our website is standing by.

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The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens


About a year ago, Dallas attorney Chrysta Castañeda told me she wanted to write a book about a case in which she’d represented T. Boone Pickens, the legendary oil tycoon and former corporate raider.

I’d written about Pickens for decades, and I’d met Castañeda while touring Pickens’ 100-square-mile ranch in the Texas Panhandle for a Texas Monthly story. I was familiar with Castañeda’s case, which involved a disputed oil deal in the Permian Basin, the hottest oil and gas prospect in the country, if not the world.

I agreed to work with her on the book, then waited to see what she delivered. After all, saying you want to write a book and actually writing it are two very different things. I soon learned why Castañeda earned the nickname “The Chainsaw.” She doesn’t just embrace challenges, she chews through them.

She turned in a riveting first-person account of the high-stakes courtroom drama, and I realized we had a unique book on our hands: the story of a Texas-sized legal battle told through the eyes of one of the few women trial lawyers who work in the oil and gas arena.

What’s more, the drilling prospect at the center of the dispute, the Red Bull, was, Pickens would later say, one of the biggest deals he’d ever been involved in. That’s saying something given that the man once tried to takeover Gulf Oil.

Pickens and Castañeda forged a bond in spite of their many differences. I found myself re-reading Charles Portis’ classic True Grit because their relationship reminded me a bit of the one between Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn.

Pickens, however, was in declining health, and he died in September. That left us scrambling to finish the book. While he wasn’t involved in the writing or planning of it, we felt an increased urgency to get the book finished. We realized our book might just be the last word on Pickens’ legacy.

But few traditional publishers could put out a book as quickly as we wanted, which led to the next twist in this journey: I became a publisher. I put together a team of top-notch editors, designers and other publishing professionals and teamed up with Texas A&M University Press, which is distributing the book.

You’ll be able to see the results within the next month. Copies of The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens should be available online and in bookstores everywhere. I’m incredibly proud of this project, both as a co-author and as a publisher. You can find out more about the book — and pre-order a copy — on our website.

And of course, you can keep up with all my endeavors — including events related to my recent George P. Mitchell biography — on my personal site as well as the site of my new imprint, Stoney Creek Publishing Group.




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Ten Things You May Not Have Known About George Mitchell

My latest book, George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet, is finally out in stores. Over the past few weeks, I’ve tweeted facts about Mitchell that aren’t widely known. I’ve collected them all here in one slideshow.

This has been an exciting project, and I’m glad to see it reach fruition. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it, and if you like it, please take a moment to go to your favorite online platform and rate it or even give a review.

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Mirror Images: George and Cynthia


A staff member at the Giant Magellan Telescope’s Mirror Lab places the last piece of glass into the mold for one of the massive mirrors, similar to those nicknamed “George” and “Cynthia.” (Photo: Giant Magellan Telescope Mirror Lab)

George Mitchell is known for perfecting the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and for his pioneering work in sustainable development. Less well-known is his support for Big Science late in his life.

As a boy growing up in Galveston, Mitchell would look at the skies and study the stars. He briefly thought about pursing a career in astronomy or cosmology, but having endured a childhood of financial hardship, he decided to go into energy because he thought he could make more money. After he sold his energy company in 2002, he returned to his love of the stars.

As part of his support for the physics program at his alma mater, Texas A&M, Mitchell also donated millions of dollars to the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is being built in the Chilean desert. One of my favorite parts of writing my book, George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet was exploring this time in Mitchell’s life, when he could be a catalyst for neglected research programs he believed were important.

Here’s what I wrote about the GMT:

Ultimately, George gave $25 million to the GMT project in addition to the money he gave A&M for the astronomy program. The first mirror was cast at the University of Arizona in 2005, and George flew out for the unveiling. Because of its size and precision, polishing and finishing the giant mirrors took another six and a half years. Freedman nicknamed the first two George and Cynthia.

George wound up giving far more than he’d planned to the physics and astronomy programs at A&M. Again, as with The Woodlands, his passion dictated his generosity. He was frustrated by the lack of public interest in the pure sciences. Businessmen gave money to business schools, and oilmen gave to petroleum engineering programs, but to George, these were just examples of the myopic thinking of too many corporate leaders. Pure science research focused on the biggest questions of all—where we came from, how we got here, how the universe was born. George was constantly pushing his publicist Dancie Ware to generate more acclaim for the GMT. “We need more science writers writing about science,” he would say.

George’s combined gifts made the GMT possible and vaulted A&M to a leading position in astronomy in less than a decade. In 2016, nine years after its founding, the program featured eight professors and one lecturer and was developing a doctorate degree. “I could not have the astronomy program that I have today—nothing even close to it—if George Mitchell hadn’t helped us when he did,” said Nick Suntzeff, the astronomer who leads the university’s efforts and holds a chair endowed, in part, by George.

But it’s the telescope that Suntzeff says could become the greatest testament to George’s philanthropy. The GMT is on track to beat the other giant telescopes to first light and begin scanning deep space for signs of life. “It would be a testament to George Mitchell
and the other people who provided funding if we could make a discovery of that magnitude with the telescope that they provided funds for,” Suntzeff said. “It would be an appropriate payback to their generosity.”

George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet is available for pre-order online and will be in bookstores Oct. 11.

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`We can do a better job’


E.F. Schumacher

George Mitchell didn’t set out to build a better city or redefine the American suburb. Having made some money in the energy business, he began buying real estate to diversify his interests. But he also became increasingly aware of social challenges, especially the decay of America’s largest cities in the 1960s, and he decided to do something about it.


“I made the decision [that] we can do a better job in developing our cities,” he said.

He’d met the inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller at the Aspen Institute in 1959 and later, the economist E.F. Schumacher. As I write in George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet. Schumacher’s views in particular influenced Mitchell’s evolving thinking about sustainability.

Schumacher … advocated earth- and user-friendly technology that corresponded to the scale of communal life. Schumacher’s rational approach to economics and his view that people should matter most in economic theory appealed to George’s own pragmatism.(Schumacher also predicted the rise of OPEC, which may have caught George’s attention as well.) Listening to Schumacher and others in Aspen rounded out his views. He became more convinced than ever that government and business should work together to
develop sustainable societies. At the same time, he worried that politicians and business leaders were too shortsighted.


Instead of worrying about the next quarter’s financial results, business leaders had the power to shape the world in areas beyond their expertise, such as education, poverty, crime, transportation, and globalization. It was a realization that would redirect the course of his life. He began to see the focus of business as narrow and self-serving. Too many executives worried too much about short-term financial gain rather than long-term solutions. “Corporate America has the resources, but 90 out of 100 of my counterparts could care less,” he said. “Most never even expose themselves to major problems.” The realization would underpin a philosophy that would define his pursuit of both fracking and sustainable development.

Ironically, the Business Roundtable recently redefined its mission statement to reflect some of these same ideas. Mitchell, however, had a 50-year head start.

George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet is available for order online and will arrive in bookstores Oct. 11.



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What the frack?


Not an accurate representation of how fracking works.

One of the unexpected controversies I encountered in writing my biography of Houston energy pioneer George Mitchell was the spelling of “fracking.” Many of the oil and gas sources I interviewed for the book insisted that spelling the word with a “k” was offensive. I decided to stick with the common spelling of “fracking,” but I did add a note explaining my choice:


Many geologists and petroleum engineers object to the spelling of “fracking.” Because the term is short for “fracturing,” they argue it should be spelled without the “k.” Indeed, early scientific papers written about the technique often refer to the need to “frac” a well, or the process itself as “fracing” or even “fraccing.” Phonetically, though, “fracing” would be pronounced “frace-ing.” As the technique entered the public lexicon, the “k” was added, in keeping with the tenets of English, and that is a practice I have continued
throughout this book.

Unfortunately for the industry, “frack” is also a euphemism for an expletive on the 1970s science fiction show Battlestar Galactica, and when that show was revived in 2004, the term was resurrected. The show’s popularity coincided with the widespread use of fracking. For many environmental groups, the irony was too delicious to ignore, and “fracking” became a derisive term applied to almost any form of drilling for oil or natural gas.

When the myths and hyperbole are stripped away, fracking has benefits as well as drawbacks, but for George Mitchell, it was part of a lifelong effort to make the world a better place.

This is one case where the English majors win. Of course, in George Mitchell’s day, fracking was considered an “unconventional” drilling method. Today, it’s common place. So maybe it’s time for a new term. On a recent podcast with the Houston Chronicle’s Nancy Sarnoff, I suggested “deep-earth rock massage.” Any other ideas?

If you’d like to read more about how fracking came into the mainstream, or how the man who made it work was also a champion of sustainable development, you can pre-order my book George P. Mtichell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet. It will be available in bookstores everywhere on Oct. 11.

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Tennis, everyone!

Mitchell and riggs

George Mitchell, second from right, at the Houston Open Golf Tournament in 1976 with tennis players (l-r) Andy
Williams, Bobby Riggs, and Wayne Glenn. (Photo: Dancie Ware)

Anyone who worked for George Mitchell knew of his obsession with tennis. Mitchell taught himself to play as a boy in Galveston, and he was captain of the tennis team at Texas A&M.

As CEO of Mitchell Energy and Development, employees knew that Mitchell left the office promptly every afternoon for his regular tennis match, and nothing kept him from it. His assistant, Linda Bomke, would break up any meetings that ran long, and some employees were known to follow Mitchell to the parking garage if they had something to tell him, because nothing kept him from his game.

In 1968, he helped found the Houston Racquet Club because he felt the city needed a venue exclusively devoted to tennis. As I explain in George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet he believed that too many country clubs in Houston were focused on golf, and the golf crowd looked down on tennis. Plus, many of them excluded Jews at the time, and some of Houston’s most prominent Jewish businessmen had been essential supporters of Mitchell’s energy company when he was starting out. Mitchell wanted a club that would be open to everyone. The Houston Racquet Club had no restrictions on membership, and it played a unexpected but important role in the advancement of women’s sports.

Three years after it opened, a group of top women players met with Gladys Heldman, once a top-ranked athlete who competed at Wimbledon in 1954. After her career, Heldman published an influential magazine, World Tennis, and became an advocate for professionalizing women’s tennis. The group included Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, and seven others who at Heldman’s urging formed their own pro tour. Heldman convinced George and other key club members to host their first tournament. She then persuaded the chair of the tobacco company Philip Morris to underwrite the competition and donate $7,500 in prize money—at the time the biggest purse ever offered for a women’s-only tournament, which typically paid a fraction of what men received.32 The fledgling women’s league struggled to establish itself in the male-dominated world of professional tennis, but the effort that began with the meeting at the Houston Racquet Club evolved into the Virginia Slims tour, the cornerstone of women’s professional tennis.

The tour got an unexpected boost thanks to grousing from many prominent male players. The bickering culminated in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” between King and self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs before thirty thousand people in Houston’s Astrodome, which George attended with some of his children.34 He didn’t realize it at the time, but his insistence on an all-inclusive club laid the foundation for the establishment of women’s professional tennis, which in turn opened more doors for women in other professional sports.

Mitchell was inducted into the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007.

George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet can be ordered online and will be available in bookstores everywhere on Oct. 11.


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